Book Review | Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock

This book is about prediction and “Superforecasters” – people who are better at forecasting than better than above average forecasters.

Turns out the biggest thing preventing you from becoming a Superforecaster is not your inability to do high school math, but rather your inability to let go of closely held beliefs.

People who are emotionally attached to their beliefs see things through a skewed lens (as we all do) but are then unable to course correct their predictions in light of new evidence.

And it turns out this frequent incremental updating is one of the key skills Superforecasters look to cultivate.

Superforecasting by Philip E. Tetlock

A Case Study – Me (not a Superforecaster):

This book confirmed three of my deeply held beliefs.

The first is that the national media is corrupt and evil. I’ve cultivated this belief by reading countless books on the subject, good luck changing my mind now.

Especially after this book revealed new information to me: the media actively avoids putting % chance predictions on vague assertions they make.

They use language like “a fair chance of…” or “more than likely” or “almost certainly” to justify whatever they’ve said afterwards no matter what happens – this allows them to get away with repeatedly overstating/understating the importance of issues to the public.

Showing a correct prediction % next to national news pundits while they’re speaking would be great (but they’ll never agree that because they’re pure evil).

The second is that decentralized command is an important leadership principle (Thanks Jocko)

The third is that all scientific knowledge is tentative.

Please recognize the massive risk I am taking for saying this in public.

There is a very long line of angry people (who didn’t do very well in high school science, consume a lot of IYI media in adulthood, and all of a sudden became scientists in the last 7 months) queuing up to give my advertisers a piece of their mind.

The worst part of this book is that Tetlock questions the infinite wisdom of Nassim Taleb.

It is difficult for me to contend with the idea that the Black Swan theory is overly complex (aren’t all events somewhat predictable beforehand?) while also deeply wanting to pay $3000 to attend his RWRI conference (with hopes that attending a week long lecture taught by people so smart I can’t understand them will undo the years of binge drinking and return me to the intellectual apex of society making me as smart and self righteous as I was in high school where I intellectually badgered the C student coronavirus experts who seek to cancel me).

If anyone wants to start a low stakes gambling ring on Predictit hmu

Book was good. Little too long (aren’t they all)

Book Review | Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

If you add the fattest person to ever live to an arena of 10,000 randomly selected people, the average weight doesn’t change much. If you add Bill Gates to an arena of 10000 randomly selected people , the average net worth skyrockets. This idea illustrates the difference between bell curves and power laws, Mediocristan and Extremistan, and a world where all swans are white and a world where black swans exist.

Nassim Taleb is an asshole. But, I have yet to find a good argument against the thesis in The Black Swan, Antifragile, or Skin in the Game (the three books of his Incerto series that I have listened to so far). In fact, the more books/tweets/media I consume the more I see: references to, obvious misinterpretations of, and arguments clearly inspired by Taleb’s writing.

Maybe that’s who you become when you invest your free time sorting out your thoughts, presenting a thesis that is proven right over and over again just to be summarily dismissed by the very audience you’re trying to warn.

COVID19 wasn’t a black swan. It wasn’t unforeseen – task forces and marginal supplies had been put together and several high profile people gave prescient talks years in advance. However, I think it would be fair to say that the response to the pandemic (at least in the US) was a black swan to most of the civilians.

If I told you a year ago that US federal, state and local governments would shut down small businesses across the country mandating that people stay inside you’d think I was crazy – but here we are.

The lesson we should take from this book (as a society and as individuals) is to build more robust, less centralized / predictable systems. Living life this way – at both ends of the barbell (exposed to massive risk but with cash under the bed) protects you from the inevitable unknown monster that’s coming to eat everyone in the middle.